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People next door: TCA Raghavan's book breaks down Indo-Pak ties for both the layman & the expert

Vivek Katju | Updated on: 2 October 2017, 18:24 IST

In the introduction to The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan, TCA Raghavan clarifies that he has attempted to write, “an animated and anecdotal” history of India-Pakistan relations.

Following the “mainstream chronology” of the relationship he has sought to provide “a fuller sense of how and why things developed as they did over the years”.

But, how far has he succeeded in his ambitious venture?

Raghavan competently lays out the contours and the terrain of India-Pakistan ties, both in terms of the issues which emerged in the very first year after partition and the deep mistrust that they generated in both countries.

While Junagadh, Hyderabad, the spat over the canal waters, the distribution of funds and Kalat have largely passed out of Indian memory, they still resonate with Pakistan and have contributed to the country’s approaches towards its larger neighbour. Jammu and Kashmir, the waters issue, India-Afghan relations have become negative pivots around which much of the relations have revolved.

That all this evolved, not on a blank slate but as a fresh chapter of the reflexes that had marked the interaction of the Congress and the Muslim League, is often overlooked by contemporary students of the India’s foreign policy. They would do well to pay heed to Raghavan’s observation –

“All the accumulated differences, tensions and suspicions that had characterised the Muslim League-Congress negotiations from the late 1930s, in fact, carried over after August 1947 and now acquired an international character.”

It is a pity that Raghavan has himself not examined further the extent to which Pakistan’s responses to India, all through the past seven decades, have borne the imprint of the Muslim League legacy especially in terms of that atavistic fear – that India wants to undo Pakistan – and logic-defying urge – that Pakistan must retain parity with India.

Has all that has happened is that the words 'Pakistan' and 'India', in the international context, have replaced the words 'Muslim' and 'Hindu' in the pre-partition Indian context?

Raghavan’s chronological approach and his readable and smooth style has led to a flowing narrative. It has also given a contemporary flavour to events as they unfolded. The spotlight on the lesser known personalities has added to the charm of the effort. However, it has resulted in sporadic treatment of the intrinsic motivations of the two countries especially as they impacted on enduring and intractable issues. This has eroded his effort of a deeper understanding the ‘how and why’ factors in the unfolding of events.

True, Raghavan provides insights, often valuable and succinct, on the perceptions of the principal players at points of time but, these tend to get lost as the narrative proceeds. This is best illustrated by the J&K issue.

Two principal points stand out on J&K.

One, Pakistan has tried every means to eliminate India from the state and has failed. Infiltration, subversion, violence and terrorism, and bilateral and international diplomacy have been its instruments at different points of time, sometimes used in tandem.

None have succeeded.

As a nation, it has paid, and continues to pay, an extraordinary price for its Kashmir obsession. This comes through at various points of the narrative but not forcefully enough on why it endures. Is this an essential pillar of Pakistan’s nationhood?

Two, its steadfast desire has been to get not only the Kashmir valley but the Muslim majority areas of the state.

Raghavan does well to recall that Pakistan Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad, who visited India in January 1955 and was present at the Republic Day celebrations (how odd it sounds now!), had informally proposed that “a large piece of territory in Jammu, north of the Chenab should be transferred to Pakistan” and the Kashmir valley “should be under joint control of a joint army”.

This was clearly unacceptable and Jawaharlal Nehru had internally noted –

“Personally, I really see no way out except a recognition by both parties of the status quo, subject to minor modifications. Also of course, if there is an agreement many mutual privileges may follow”.

Five decades later in the back-channel effort of General Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a variant of the same effort was being made.

Raghavan records Musharraf’s four points in the General’s own words –

“…….Fourth, and most important, have a joint management mechanism with a membership consisting of Pakistanis, Indians, and Kashmiris overseeing self-governance”.

Manmohan Singh’s negotiators assert that 'common' mechanisms were being discussed and not 'joint'. The latter would lead to diffused sovereignty which is contrary to India’s constitutional position on the state and therefore fundamentally different from what Nehru had in mind. These are important aspects which a history of the relationship needs to analyse and opine on.

Raghavan treats Pakistan’s formal structures as the decision makers on the Pakistani side of the bilateral equation. This is fine so long as an army chief is also the Head of Government but has not been so, except for short periods after the 1950s, when there has been a civilian government.

Raghavan does note the decisive view of the army such as in not sending the DG ISI after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack to India. The pivotal position of the army in the India-Pakistan ties, however, required more exhaustive treatment. This is particularly because it has ensured that India is viewed as Pakistan’s permanent enemy.

Raghavan explores areas that are often ignored in accounts of the relationship. These include culture and the roles played by institutions, industry such as Bollywood and individuals; sports especially cricket; ties between the two Punjabs; travel and people to people contacts.

For all this, the 1965 war provided the great rupture which has never narrowed. Meanwhile, the two countries went on different and widening trajectories. In Pakistan, as Islamic zeal took ever greater hold, a perceived Hindu India became more and more alien. This too required a greater look as did the treatment of the Sikh jathas.

Given Raghavan’s impressive credentials on Pakistan as a diplomat – he has served as India’s High Commissioner and held the Deputy’s position in the Mission in an earlier avatar and has also handled the Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran division in the External Affairs Ministry. And with his training as a historian and his obvious qualities as a writer it can only be hoped that he will keep his focus on Pakistan.

His writings will help both the lay reader as well those who have a professional interest in India’s hostile western neighbour to understand it better and through that the nature of India-Pakistan ties. That process begins with this work.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 2 October 2017, 18:24 IST